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Hand Wings

Updated: Feb 23

Sensory art is much harder than people think. Sure, you can throw together a bunch of stuff that feels nice to touch and play some binaural or ambient sounds...those are easy wins though. As an autistic person, I am kind of bored (and a little insulted) about the same-old approach to our sensory differences. Once, I worked at a museum where the plan for sensory engagement of visitors with First Nations culture was to put some touchable bark on a table. That's it. It was offensive to both autistic and Indigenous peoples.

These days, I'm feeling more interested in sensory experiences that are communicative and relationship building. I want people to experience and begin to understand that my sensory differences are not 'symptoms', they are language. And that accessibility is not about taking away sensory experiences, but about altering sensory experiences so that those with sensory sensitivities can be included too. I want to stop keeping my head above water to provide diversity tick-box opportunities and surface-level information about my life experience to outsiders who could just as easily go and google that info for themselves. I want to take a deep dive into the full richness of my sensory world and I want to bring audiences in with me!

For my show Upside-Down People, I've been very limited on what I can do outside the audio-visual senses given that the project is for a cinema venue. Screens and sensory stuff don't typically work well together. So I started wondering what sensory experiences I could give the audience to draw them into my autistic sensory communication with the world and into relationship with the Bats I'll be teaching them about too.

The answer was gloves! Black latex gloves that stretch and cling with their rubbery pull against your hands - anatomically similar to wings, yet rearranged to hold instead of fly. The audience will be invited to put on the gloves, make a Bat puppet with their hands, and 'fly' along with swarms of Bats on the big screen.

Glove Bats are a textural experience with real meaning, real purpose, and real opportunities for sensory communication with an animal that most people cannot touch. It also has the beautiful symbolism of hands/wings - as the tools of touch-talk, reaching out to and connecting with others, and of course, taking flight into something new with purpose.

At the end of the show, the audience are invited to either leave their gloves with me or to have a go at putting them onto a night-sky mural in the shape of Bats themselves. Even though they've just attended a screen-based art show, their very last experience of the night with be physical, textural, participatory, and experiential.

In the end, we'll have a beautiful mural of Bats - each representing a person who will hopefully now fly out again into the world with a renewed sense of who Bats and autistic people are.

*Artworks and images of artworks belong to Sara Kian-Judge 2022.

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1 Comment

Randy Eady
Randy Eady
Nov 14, 2023

A Feel for Flight

In watching bat wings closely and in flight motion, it appears as if bats are scooping "fist-fulls" of air into the upper portion of their wings w/their fingers -- thereby creating a sort of billowing parachute effect on the wing. Generating their own lift by simply flapping these muscled appendages, there's lift enough to suspend them in the air, similarly to how a swimmer suspends themselves in a stationary spot in a pool.

Evidence also shows a correlation between observed hair patterns, aerodynamic ability and anti-inflammatory response. These domed wing hairs (which resemble the tactile receptors associated with them -- Merkel receptors) are highly specialized to sense airflow patterns.

Working out the features & factors affecting…

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